The Mercosur, Mercado Común del Sur (Common Market of the South) is an ambitious economic integration project which includes the founding members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. In 2008, Venezuela, Chile and Bolivia became associate members. Peru, Ecuador, Colombia have expressed their willingness to join the group, and Mexico has shown a growing interest.
Mercosur’s main objective is to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of the all member economies by opening markets, promoting economic development in the framework of a globalized world, improving infrastructure and communications, making better use of available resources, preserving the environment, generating industrial complementation and coordinating macroeconomic polices. Achieving a common external tariff is one of the main goals of the block.
In spite of the fact that the formal launching of Mercosur occurred in March 1991 with the Asunción Treaty signed by the four original member countries, the integration spirit in the region dates from far back and has a rich experience as well as multiple bilateral complementation agreements which helped pave the way for the new advancement.
During the sixties ALALC, (Latinamerican Free Market Association) began operating and in 1980—moving a step further—the original group became ALADI, Latinamerican Integration Association. Towards the end of the 20th century, bilateral trade agreements proliferated among future Mercosur members, particularly Argentina and Brazil, who decided to leave aside a historical rivalry in favor of regional leadership and so embarked on economic complementation that became the founding structure for Mercosur.
Uruguay and Paraguay—strategically located between the two South American giants—followed, and Montevideo was chosen as the seat for the administrative offices of Mercosur, as had been before with ALALC and ALADI.
Mercosur is ruled by the Common Market Council (CMC, Consejo del Mercado Común), which is responsible for the political decisions of the integration process. Sitting members are the members’ Presidents and their cabinets, who regularly meet twice a year (rotating the host country).
A step below stands the Common Market Group (GMC, Grupo Mercado Común), the executive branch which is made up of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Ministers of Economy and Central Banks’ presidents, plus permanent coordinators from each member country.
GMC branches out into the Trade Commission of Mercosur (which is responsible for counselling and enforcing trade policies’ instruments as well as guidelines), the Joint Parliamentary Commission (in representation of elected Parliaments), the Economic and Social Consultation Forum (with representatives from the different economic and social groups) and finally, the Administrative Secretariat in Montevideo.
The Mercosur Parliament was officially inaugurated December 14, 2006 in Brasilia and in the first phase will have 18 representatives from each member country, nominated by local parliaments. Hopefully, by 2014 it will be elected by universal, direct ballot and have some legislative powers binding the group.
The five member countries hold a population of 265 million (Brazil 188M; Argentina 40M; Paraguay 6.5M; Uruguay 3.4M and Venezuela, 28M); a total area of 12,708,970 square kilometres and a combined GDP of 930 billion US dollars (at official prices).